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The City of Santa Cruz Wages Campaign Attacking Homeless Camps
For 6 weeks the City of Santa Cruz has Cited more than 300 people and has demolished dozens of camps trashing personal property.
Its summertime in Santa Cruz and its good vibes all around, unless you are sleeping outside.
Since early July the Santa Cruz Police Department has been attacking homeless camps and trashing personal belongings while they write hundreds of citations, arrest dozens of the most vulnerable people in town and destroy more than 100 campsites.
In the first six weeks of this program police and parks officers have racked up quiet a destructive tally and have ruined the lives of many who’re struggling at the bottom of the economic strata.
300 citations have been issued.
120 Arrests have been made.
170 Camps have been marked for removal
70 camps have been removed and all contents have been disposed of.
The warm climate attracts a million tourists who flood the beach and downtown, but as the economy tanks, more people are unable to make rent and jobs are less plentiful. More people compete for fewer jobs while restaurants and motels bustle with out of towners living the good life, or whats left of it.
In this self described liberal beach town its illegal to sleep outside between 10pm and 8am when parks close and the open spaces in the green belt surrounding town shut their doors to visitors. Some of the wooded areas have been closed indefinitely. To maintain a more stable existence out of the eyes of townsfolk, people who’ve lost their homes often take refuge in the wilds of the woods and the river levee.
As one who has been without housing before, I know its a very cumbersome existence. Some people carry possessions in a backpack or even on a set of wheels while others have found space off the beaten path to store items so they aren’t so identifiably houseless and can move around with more ease. For many, the problems are manifold. Just as it is with the “housed” population, some homeless folks have problems with drugs, alcohol and mental issues. Some are chronic abusers who need social services and the compassion of the community as they live their lives out of doors.
The police and city parks department have been running a “pilot program” to eradicate these camps and those who inhabit them. Community members have expressed distaste for these camps at City Council Meetings and while city leaders fail to address the problem of lack of shelter for these people, they clearly are eager to trash tents and the temporary makeshift homes they’ve created for themselves.
Folks who have lost everything and have no other options than to camp in the dark areas of town can begin to accumulate citations. When in this downward spiral, it is difficult to make it to the courthouse to address the citation. Police have compiled a list of 130 people who have more than 3 citations that have not been dealt with. Warrants for their arrest been issued. This doesn’t help the individual who is already suffering from economic and social problems, it only makes it worse.
Police claim they put people who’re camping in the woods in touch with social services and that may be somewhat true, but what kind of help is it to a person who is facing arrest just for survival camping?
Police are obligated to keep the personal belongings they find for 90 days before trashing them, but in these sweeps they trash belongings immediately. Many have lost important personal documents, irreplaceable keepsakes and the basics of survival to the dumpsters of the police department. This is a very dispiriting experience and it can be difficult to recover from.
There really is no place for these people to safely and legally sleep. There are not nearly enough beds in the emergency shelter that opens in the winter for folks who need them and once it closes in early spring, there is a woefully insufficient number of beds for even the most desperately homeless folks who need help because of failing health, old age or other issues.
In June, the city and county began the Homeward Bound Program which offers homeless folks a free bus ticket out of town. Nearly 400 people have taken the agencies up on the offer. The program costs $25,000 and seeks to simply rid the local area of the homeless people by sending them to other areas.
For a community that considers itself as compassionate and liberal, conducting sweeps of homeless encampments, arresting people and trashing personal belongings seems anything but helpful.
While there is no shelter available and its illegal to sleep outside at night, the only thing that the city of Santa Cruz is really offering these folks is a free bus ticket out of town.
Karen Ellfson says she will be ready when the city clears her camp from Guadalupe River, but she doesn’t know where she will go.
A slap shot from HP Pavilion, through Guadalupe Park and into the neighboring creek bed, a rooster makes its home. He lives among shopping carts, deflated tire tubes and toilet paper rolls, empty beer cans and coolers, a Negro Modelo sign lodged in the fresh mud and a half-dozen people who spend their nights sleeping in tents.
Karen Ellfson is one of these people. She lives here with her husband. At 30 years old, a month shy of her next birthday, the Morgan Hill native knows that in two weeks she’ll need to find a new home. She’s one of several dozen homeless people with targets on their backs.
Mayor Don Lane (also Head of the Board of Directors of the Homeless [Lack of] Services Center) has still not responded to either my request for a follow-up forum on HLOSC polices re: the disabled, and due process for all clients there. He has not responded to Sandra Leigh of Community TV's request either, as far as I know.
I've also invited Don to come to the Candlelight Vigil Against the Crackdown For those who want to leave him a message and arrange for an appointment to chat, call 420-5022.
Hopefully he can then explain how the City's current policies and how they help the safety of the community and respect the rights and dignity of the homeless population.